(SPOILERS AHOY, CAPTAIN!)
Okay, now everyone knows that Stephen King has written over 914 books (okay, it’s really 50), seven of them under the pen name Seymour Butts (okay, it’s really Richard Bachman), and nearly 200 short stories (okay, it’s really- uh… no wait, that’s not bullshit, it really is 200, the prolific bastard). Many people will know of him, even if they haven’t read any of his work. What they probably won’t know is that his first published work (though the fourth one to be written) was Carrie, released in 1974, a slim work compared with his later epics. Set in the then-future year of 1979, it was an epistolary novel describing Carrietta “Carrie” White, a withdrawn, bullied high school girl whose fundamentalist Christian mother left her unprepared to deal with either her burgeoning adulthood or her telekinetic powers, leading to a bloody vengeance on her tormentors, and the town that spawned them.
The book, one of the most frequently banned in American high schools (presumably for the language and sexual aspects, and not for its potential for copycat psychokinetic killers), was dedicated to King’s wife Tabitha: “This is for Tabby, who got me into it – and then bailed me out of it.” (when he got fed up with how the story refused to unfold for him, he threw away what he’d written, only for his wife to rescue the manuscript and encourage him to finish it). Carrie was made into a famous 1976 movie by Brian DePalma, a less-famous 1988 Broadway musical, a forgotten 1999 sequel, and a 2002 TV movie (and failed series pilot). I’ve only read the book and seen the DePalma movie.
And now, there’s a new movie, directed by Kimberley Pierce (BOYS DON’T CRY) and starring Chloe Grace Moretz (KICK-ASS, DARK SHADOWS) in the title role and Julianne Moore (HANNIBAL) as her mother. Advance reports indicated that it would be a more faithful version of the King novel, while also updating it for the Twenty-First Century. But did it succeed?
The movie opens with Margaret White (Moore), at home alone, in bed and in seeming mortal pain, her legs spread (I’m assuming she isn’t suffering from the effects of a kipper vindaloo). Blood comes from between her legs, she peers over the bottom of her lifted dress… and sees a newborn infant (I hate when that happens). She picks up some scissors, holding them up over the baby, clearly ready to bypass asking for a return on this unwanted gift. But, maternal instincts and the incidental music taking hold of her, she stays her hand…
We then cut to the present day, as a small town teenage girl named Carrie (Moretz), reluctantly participating in high school water volleyball (Yah! Memories of being teased for a pizza gut surface once more!), only manages to send the ball to the back of the head of school bully and all-around Mean Girl Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday, HER). No, I’m sure she’ll be forgiving. Girls are like that.
Afterwards in the showers, Carrie is surprised, to say the least, by her first period, which she naively thinks means something is seriously wrong down there. The girls react to her hysteria not with chocolates and a lie down (the usual prescription in my house), but with laughter, jeers, thrown tampons and a smartphone video recording by Chris of the whole event, because when it comes to empathy teenagers as a group are up there with Komodo dragons and Internet trolls.
Gym teacher Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer, appearing later this year in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES) comforts Carrie and sends the traumatised girl home with her mother, which is akin to calling up Freddy Krueger as an emergency baby sitter. Displaying all the enlightened reason of a Tea Party Presidential candidate, Margaret smacks Carrie around with her bible and locks her in a closet Harry Potter style until she’d learned her lesson about menstruating without permission. In response, Carrie cracks the door with her mind, and makes the closet crucifix bleed (Huh? How does that work? And really, of all the possible super powers you could have, psychically inducing stigmata in inanimate objects is one that will make you a D-List X-Man, alongside the guy who can sweat BBQ sauce and the girl with the eyes on her elbows).
After Chris’ recording goes viral on YouTube, Miss Desjardin opens an industrial-sized can of Whoop Ass on her and the other bully girls involved, giving them the old Boot Camp treatment. But after a while, Chris decides she’s had enough, and draws a line in the sand, clearly believing that her stance is on a par with Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the bus. In response, Miss Desjardin has her suspended and banned from the prom, and so naturally Chris, with her asshole boyfriend Billy Nolan (Alex Russell), vows her revenge on the one clearly responsible for all this unfairness and suffering in her life: Carrie.
But another of the punished girls, Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde, THREE MUSKETEERS) feels genuine remorse, and tries to make amends by convincing her boyfriend Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort, appearing later this year in the Dystopian movie DIVERGENT) to ask Carrie to the prom. An initially suspicious Carrie accepts Tommy’s invitation, her confidence growing along with her telekinetic abilities, and Carrie uses both to proverbially bitch slap her mother’s attempts to keep her on the straight and narrow path of self-harm and Medieval mentality. Wow, it looks like Carrie’s world is finally coming up roses!
And if you believe that, I recommend you bet on GROWN UPS 2 to sweep the Oscars this year.
Remakes (or reboots or whatever you want to call them) have had a bad reputation over the years, with very few (THE THING, THE FLY) equalling let alone surpassing their respective originals. I mean, it’s tough to get enthusiastic about projects whose seeming sole purpose is to leech off the hard work generated by the original movies. Examples in recent years, however, have shown that they don’t have to be considered bad by default: MANIAC, THE EVIL DEAD, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, HALLOWEEN. Personally I think the key to success is a balance between a faithfulness to what make the source material memorable, while also adding elements to update the story or flesh out characterisation.
But it’s not just this optimism that made me look forward to the new CARRIE, or the fact that the new movie would be directed by Pierce, whose début BOYS DON’T CRY proved she knew a little something about bullies and vengeance. As much as I enjoyed DePalma’s version, I couldn’t help but think about how ready we might be now for a new version. In King’s novel, Carrie goes on what we would later call a spree killing, murdering dozens if not more people in her school and sadly, this is something we’ll see too much of in real life in the following decades, only with assault weapons instead of psychic powers. Bullying still continues, but has now extended into Cyberspace. And the lone Christian fundamentalist character of Margaret White, a sex-hating, woman-hating extremist desperate to keep her mind in the Medieval, now has a freaking political party and a couple of news channels and radio stations behind her.
But, apparently thanks to studio interference, the new CARRIE is less its own identity and more a homage to the DePalma film. Oh, it has certainly updated the story in terms of technology and such, but at the same time, it copies dialogue (which explains why the credits include the original screenplay by Lawrence Kasden) and shots from the DePalma film.
And where there are differences, they’re slight, and perhaps a mistake. For instance, in DePalma’s version, when Carrie is hit with the pig blood at the prom, when her world crashes down and her mother is seemingly proven right and THE WHOLE WORLD SHOULD BURN, Carrie snaps. Nobody is safe as she unleashes her fury, killing innocent bystanders as well as enemies. It was an ideally-rendered depiction of the chaos of such moments (amplified by DePalma’s then-innovative split-screen techniques), and as terrible as the effects of her fury are, it’s at least an understandable reaction: rage is meant to be as overwhelming and indiscriminate as a hand grenade, not lean and precise as a scalpel.
But Moretz’s Carrie is aware of her actions at the prom, and gives the innocent folk the chance to escape the auditorium before she lets slip the Telekinetic Dogs of War. Perhaps this was an attempt to show that the lead character wasn’t monstrous – but for me at least, it had the opposite reaction, and shows that she is fully conscious and in control of her actions, and so must bear responsibility for them.
And in DePalma’s version, Carrie has telekinesis, and the progression of its strength through the movie to the climax seems realistically uneven, like a set of muscles that are only just being exercised and strengthened. Moretz’s Carrie seems to be an incarnation of Jean Grey/Phoenix: not only can she move things with her mind (though she sometimes seems to need to use her hands), she can also levitate, make things bleed, heat up metal, send seismic shocks through her foot to crack pavement. And in the finale, when she’s back at her house, killing her mother and preparing to die herself, and Sue Snell arrives to try and help her, Carrie can tell not only that Sue is pregnant, but that it’s going to be a baby girl. (Hmm, looks like Psychic Sonogram Girl is going to join Stigmata Kid on the X-Men D-List).
But now I sound like I’m completely dumping on the movie. I’m not; on the contrary, there’s much to be commended. Chloe Moretz is quite good in the role, closer to the age of the character (she was 15 at the time of filming) and giving it more of a bookish geek vibe than the deer-caught-in-the-headlights performance from Spacek, as was Julianne Moore and Judy Greer in their respective roles (Trivia time: Jodie Foster was initially cast in the role of Margaret before being replaced by Moore, just as Moore had previously replaced Foster as Clarice Starling in HANNIBAL). Strangely enough, there wasn’t much chemistry between Moretz and Moore; this may have been due to the fact that, as a minor, Moretz’s filming time was very limited, so the director ending up shooting scenes between Moore’s and Moretz’s characters with the latter seemingly out of frame, and Moore reacting off of Kimberley Pierce herself.
And the grand set piece of the prom massacre is certainly kinetic and violent, with modern effects and direction offering a dynamic complement to DePalma’s version. As for the ending… well, better to talk about the five different endings, all indicative of the studio’s interference, as well as their original hopes that this might be the start of a franchise (unlikely now, given the movie’s relatively poor box office performance), and their desire to move away from the original novel and more to DePalma. A shame, really, and hopefully in the future we might get a Director’s Cut. It would have been something to see a feminist take on the story. Then maybe Carrie could have survived and gone to join the New Orleans witches in AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN!
The movie is available on DVD and VOD now, and the trailer is below.
Director: Kimberley Pierce
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. The D is silent. Not saying a damn word.